February 7, 2020, 12:31 am
It seemed like the Andre Drummond trade market was completely dead.
The Hawks refused to meet Detroit’s asking price and instead found a better value in Clint Capela, dumping some of their own bad money off the books in the process. With one the league’s most center-needy teams out of the running, it looked increasingly likely that the Pistons would fail to find a taker for Drummond, watching him head elsewhere without receiving any compensation.
The Pistons might’ve found rock bottom instead, accepting Brandon Knight, John Henson and a 2023 second-round pick from the Cavaliers in exchange for their franchise player.
It’s true that Drummond doesn’t quite fit the criteria of a proverbial franchise player, but it’s hard to argue that he is not the face of this unfortunate era in Detroit’s basketball history.
With Blake Griffin’s persistent knee issues issuing the final blow – injuries to Luke Kennard, Derrick Rose, Reggie Jackson and others didn’t help, but the Pistons had to know that they weren’t going anywhere without Griffin – the Pistons accepted the inevitability of their station. There is a rebuild coming, and recent misguided attempts to buttress a flawed foundation will only make things more painful. As such, a Drummond trade was a necessity.
Both Knight and Henson are on expiring deals and don’t figure to play much down the stretch, barring some Dwane Casey shenanigans or another run of injuries. Lord knows what will become of that pick.
Drummond’s public insistence that he would opt out of $28.8 million next season might have dulled the offers, but the Pistons missed their chance to extract a better return when Atlanta struck its deal with Houston. With the replacement level for centers higher than ever, especially for centers that can’t shoot, the Pistons had an extremely limited field of suitors.
One thing that’s become abundantly clear is that the league doesn’t view in Drummond in a very flattering light. The Pistons, the team who knew his game better than anyone, declined to offer a contract that would even make Drummond consider re-signing, if we take his opt-out comments at face value.
There’s been plenty of talk about what kind of impact Drummond actually has on the game despite his full stat lines, and Thursday’s underwhelming trade should tell you everything you need to know about what league executives think.
There’s a cruel irony at play in that Drummond has spent countless hours and summertime sessions working on his offensive game – the very same game that the Pistons have been trying to break away from, the same game that makes Drummond the least efficient version of himself. Those go-nowhere post-ups, meant to prove that Drummond can take over a game like the league’s elite, completely shredded his value.
His playstyle is not one that can be plugged in seamlessly. Drummond’s desire for a huge share of touches as a go-to scorer demands that a team build its game around him. Unfortunately, his skillset just isn’t broad or versatile enough to warrant that kind of investment anymore.
Nobody wanted to meet Detroit’s asking price for a player whose stubborn offensive instincts would require a serious integration period, let alone someone who might just be a rental. More damningly, teams might’ve been more scared that Drummond, made aware of his valuation after a trade like this, might change his mind and opt in for next season.
So we’re left with this. Drummond, one of the NBA’s best rebounders, a two-time All-Star at age 26, essentially traded for a second-round pick that won’t appear for three years. The team most willing to meet the Pistons in the middle trails Detroit by 5.5 games in the standings. They’re in the middle of their own rebuild and have three quality frontcourt players already. Drummond’s been relegated to a test drive from one of the worst teams in the league.
The Pistons aren’t blameless here, as Drummond’s perception around the league is largely shaped by the team’s lack of success. They’ve never had an above average point guard, despite brief flashes of promise from Reggie Jackson. They gave Drummond more responsibilities as a playmaker, only to trade a budding star and perfect complement in Tobias Harris for Griffin, who immediately took over as the top dog. They’ve never bothered to stack the lineup with plus defenders who can help cover up some of Drummond’s limitations. He hasn’t been put in a position to fail, per se, but he also hasn’t been given optimal odds of success, either.
As for the Pistons, they’ll move forward and finally trudge into a rebuild. Thursday was a disappointment in that regard too, as despite the ripping off of the Drummond band-aid, Detroit decided to hang onto tradeable players like Rose and Markieff Morris.
Even with just the one deal, they surely hoped for more than this, but their seeming disinterest in even negotiating seriously with Drummond suggests that they knew what was coming. They’ve removed all risk of an opt-in, so they can pencil an extra $28.8 million onto the bar napkin calculations for next year.
Flexibility isn’t nothing, and the Pistons might be able to leverage some of their space into futures as other teams prepare for the summer of 2021. Detroit would need to renounce the cap holds for Jackson, Knight, Langston Galloway and Thon Maker to get under the cap, but that doesn’t seem like a difficult call.
Moreover, they’ll be able to open up more minutes and touches for Sekou Doumbouya and Christian Wood. Maybe even Maker gets a closer look and gets re-signed at a lower salary. The Pistons are now free to explore a bit, and they won’t be handcuffed by Drummond’s desire to post-up rather than go with the flow of the offense. They’ll be able to find a more malleable center, someone who fits their vision for the next era.
In the end, Detroit’s biggest gain from this trade comes in the form of opportunity cost. As far as tangible assets, the Pistons won’t see anything until the second round of the 2023 draft. This deal was inevitable, and yet you can’t help but feel that Detroit had to come away with more.